EASTON – The Easton Food Pantry is in need of a new home by the end of the year.
The pantry has been located at the Easton Town Offices on Elm Street since 1978, but with the need for a larger, more accessible space and a pending construction project, it’s time to relocate.
“We’re getting so large now,” Easton Food Pantry founder Ken Wood said. “The numbers have tripled.”
The pantry has been seeing up to 120 to 130 families visiting each week. More than 300 are signed up, built all don’t come every week, Wood said.
Before the pandemic, the pantry was serving 60 to 70 families a week.
“The Easton Food Pantry has been an invaluable community partner, especially during the pandemic. Sadly, the need for food assistance has grown significantly,” Select Board Chair Dottie Fulginiti said. “For years, the Food Pantry has worked out of the Town Hall and has simply outgrown the space.”
In January, a $1.4 million renovation of the building is set to begin. The project will restore the exterior of the 109-year old structure. The work includes windows, doors, the entrance portico, roof, trim and gutters.
“The construction crews will need the space we are now using for our trailers,” a statement on the Easton Food Pantry website said. “Also, there would be a danger to our clients and volunteers if we tried to operate at Town Hall during construction.”
The pantry currently uses approximately 2,000 square feet between its basement space at the town offices and on-site trailers. However an even larger space would be preferable.
“The basement space is not handicapped accessible and is very cramped,” Select Board Chair Dottie Fulginiti said.
The trailers used to store food outside also take up the limited parking spots at town hall.
“During COVID, when the town hall was closed to the public, there was more flexibility to use the outdoor space,” Fulginiti said. “Now that town hall has fully reopened, between staff and the public, the parking and traffic flow have been a challenge. When we start to do in-person board meetings again, there is not going to be enough parking. The renovations will certainly compound that this winter.”
The Town Easton Food Pantry Working Group has been created to assist the pantry find a new home and move. Members include Ken Wood, Dan Guerin and Scott Habelt from the food pantry, Fulginiti, Assistant Town Administrator Michael Blanchard and Director of Planning & Economic Development Stephanie Danielson.
“The working group is really trying to explore areas that would be better suited to host the pantry,” Fulginiti said. “They are looking for at least 2,000 to 2,500 square feet, ADA accessible and a site with good traffic flow.”
The move could also mean the pantry would need funds to pay rent.
“Right now there is no other town facility we can move to,” Wood said.
The pantry is also seeking suggestions from the public for a new location.
Wood said the pantry would like to find space as soon as possible to allow time to make any alterations and plan a move.
“The town has been incredibly supportive of the Easton Food Pantry since they started hosting us in 1978, so we want to thank them for that,” the statement on the Easton Food Pantry website said. “With the support of the people of Easton we feel confident that we can manage this transition successfully.”
“Easton’s been very supportive of us,” Wood said. “Overall the town has gone out of its way.”
“(Easton Food Pantry founder) Ken Wood and his late wife Mary Jane have created this amazing legacy of people helping people,” Fulginiti said. “The Food Pantry continues to be operated by volunteers and every dollar raised goes to the program. The hope is to find a building or work with a partner organization that can offer a space that is sustainable to host the food distribution and other services offered by Ken and his incredible team.”
In preparation of the move, the pantry is temporarily suspending food drives beyond those already scheduled until further notice.
The Easton Food Pantry serves Easton residents only. As of Aug. 6, food distribution hours on Fridays will change to 1 to 3:30 p.m.
For more information about the pantry go to eastonfoodpantry.org.
Staff writer Donna Whitehead can be reached by email at [email protected]. You can also friend her on Facebook. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to the Journal News Independent today.